The NFL’s new touchback rule appears to be having the opposite of its intended effect.
Through 14 games of the 2016 NFL season, 61.8 percent of kickoffs ended in touchbacks, according to ESPN. That’s down from 68.9 percent of kickoffs ending in touchbacks in Week One last year.
That’s not a huge decline, but the fact that there’s a decline in touchbacks at all shows that the new rule isn’t doing what it was designed to do. When NFL owners voted to move the touchback after kickoffs from the 20 to the 25-yard line, they hoped that it would incentivize returners to keep the ball in the end zone and therefore reduce kickoff returns and the injuries that come with them. Instead, coaches are instructing their kickers to kick shorter and land the ball in the field of play, rather than the end zone: In the first 14 games 81.9 percent of kickoffs have reached the end zone, whereas 90.7 percent of kickoffs reached the end zone in Week One of last year.
It’s still too early to say what the ultimate effects of this rule will be, but it seems very unlikely that it will reduce the number of kickoff returns. More likely, it will increase the number of kickoff returns. Which defeats the purpose of the rule.